We've had a trying year in North Carolina politics and—let's be honest—in American society in general. The embarrassment of HB 2 alone inspired boycotts from large corporations and celebrities who took a stand against bigotry. After a blowout performance at Carter Finley Stadium, Beyoncé posted an Instagram photo where she posed casually in her Raleigh hotel room wearing an Equality NC "Y'all Means All" T-shirt. The rest of us can take a fashionable activist stance, too, with local designers who are raising a stylish middle finger to the status quo.
Punk outfit Black Flag inspired a generation with defiance: "This fucking city/ is run by pigs!" Raleigh native Tyrone Demery riffed on the band's renowned logo for a T-shirt design that leaves no question as to whether black lives matter. "I don't just see victims on the news," he says. "I see myself, my brother, my cousins, my friends." Raleigh's Lumina Clothing sells the shirt in three colors, with proceeds benefitting families whose loved ones fell victim to police violence.
When the N.C. GOP rolled out HB 2, local metal monsters MAKE already had a song about Pat McCrory in the (trash) bag. "Human Garbage" hurls furious insults at right-wing politicians in general, but the eponymous T-shirt explicitly puts the governor's smug face front and center, framed by the song title with the MAKE logo scrawled over his forehead.
"We feel very strongly that if you have a platform, which is inherent if you're an artist with an audience, you have a rare ability to speak up and speak out," says MAKE's Scott Endres. "I personally think it's fucking heartbreaking that our governments paint targets on already-suffering minority groups, and as a white male I'm at essentially no risk in speaking out, so I feel a duty to use my privilege in ways that help those without it."
"Our music has always grappled with issues of oppression on one level or another, and what good would that really do if we weren't willing to come out as people and put our money where our mouths are?" band member Spencer Lee adds.
The shirt sold out quickly, and after covering its production costs, the band gave about $2,100 in profits to Southerners on New Ground, a multiracial queer liberation organization in the South.
I'd argue that House of Swank's tomato/vinegar barbecue shirt is as divisive as any, but GOP shenanigans inspired the store to really get political. John Pugh says his company does not support HB 2 and wanted to "put that out" into the world. "I don't care where anybody pees," he says. Using an internationally recognized symbol, Pugh and his crew screen-printed a round of T-shirts that he says were "super hot" when they came out. Of the 150 designs House of Swank makes, the "Whichever" shirt ranks among the top fifteen sellers.
"We have folks all over the political spectrum buying that shirt," he says, "just as a 'this is ridiculous' stand." House of Swank donated a portion of its quarterly profits this year to the LGBT Center of Raleigh.
With an explicit image of a North Carolina-shaped gun, RUNAWAY's "Bulletproof" collection is what founder Gabe Eng-Goetz calls "a commentary on how closely North Carolina is tied to our obsession with firearms." The number 1,206 on the logo represents the number of North Carolinians who have died due to gun violence (from the most recent available statistics in 2014).
After September's fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, RUNAWAY officially stated its support for the Movement for Black Lives on social media. From there, the team began researching gun violence to figure out ways to contribute. Proceeds from the Bulletproof line, which includes T-shirts, hats, and a pin, benefit North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.
"Gun violence isn't just homicide," says Eng-Goetz. "It's suicide, accidents, a lot of it's linked to domestic abuse. It covers a wide range. NCGV promotes education, safe gun ownership, helps regulate the sale of guns, and empowerment with youth, like support groups for kids affected by gun violence."
Eng-Goetz says the shocking image is supposed to be thought-provoking.
"I didn't want to try and make it some uplifting, happy image," he says. "The issue is serious and real. I didn't want to sugarcoat that with some image that's just not true to the issue. We owe it to the city to be outspoken about these sort of things."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Heart on Your Sleeve"